NFL replay rules could reportedly change dramatically in 2021

Nov 1, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Referee Brad Allen looks at the replay during the second half between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL replay rules have slowly expanded in recent years, with instant replay playing an increasing role in big decisions made by referees. Now, another huge change could be looming for the upcoming 2021 NFL season.

Many have been calling for the league to implement a sky judge, with the idea gaining support from the NFL Competition Committee. The idea, similar to what the XFL and AAF used, would put a referee in the booth to oversee the game and the official would have the authority to correct egregious calls or critical mistakes.

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Despite many teams and coaches wanting a sky judge, league officials and referees remain against it. While it might be several years before the NFL even remotely considers implementing what other pro football leagues used, there could be a huge change coming in 2021.

According to NBC Sports’ Peter King, NFL owners could vote to grant in-stadium replay officials with expanded power, providing them with greater authority on advising on-field referees. If approved at the March 30-31 meeting, replay officials could have greater input on catches, down-by-contact calls and plays made along the sideline.

The league’s Competition Committee is sending a proposal to owners that would change the duties of the designated NFL replay official. Currently, the person primarily works with referees to correct the spot of a penalty committed or issues with the game clock. But those powers would be significantly expanded, if owners approve the rule.

How will NFL replay change with proposed rule?

The proposed change would lead to the expansion of NFL replay, opening the door for more stoppage to determine if the correct call on a specific play was made. While the added delays would likely bother some football fans, coaches likely are hoping the new rule would limit the number of missed calls.

If an on-field official rules a wide receiver only got one foot out of bounds on a catch and a team doesn’t have any challenges remaining, the replay official could step in. An example of a play that might have been corrected could be found from last season’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans.

Aaron Jones ripped off a 59-yard run, sprinting down the sideline before finally being brought down inside the red zone. Because the Packers quickly ran downfield for the next play and Tennessee didn’t challenge it, the replay official couldn’t correct the refs missing Jones’ foot stepping out at the 43-yard line.

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The call would be corrected under the proposed rule. Likewise, the NFL replay official could overturn a play that refs called a catch, if sufficient video evidence determines the football hit the ground. Ultimately, the Competition Committee is hopeful that this will eliminate some of the on-field mistakes made by referees.

Peter King expects the rule will be approved by owners, opening the door for more instant replay next season. As for the sky judge, though, that seems to be years away from having a chance.